Allowing racist rap video could normalise offensive speech:
Shanmugam 1

SINGAPORE: If a racist rap video was allowed to remain online, it could normalise offensive speech and such attacks against other races could become mainstream, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.

Speaking at the CNM Leaders Summit organised by the National University of Singapore’s Department of Communications and New Media on Thursday (Aug 22), Mr Shanmugam expanded on why the Government acted to remove the rap video by YouTuber Preetipls and her brother Subhas Nair, which came in response to a controversial “brownface” advertisement.

In the advertisement, Chinese actor Dennis Chew appeared in “brownface” to portray an Indian man. He also cross-dressed as a Malay woman and a Chinese woman.

The rap video by the Nair siblings was laced with vulgar language targeting the Chinese community. 

“The reason why we drew a line in the sand is that one video can lead to more videos,” Mr Shanmugam said.

“It can lead to videos across races, majority versus minority. It worsens racism, not reduces it.”

K. Shanmugam

Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam speaking to mostly students and staff at the biannual CNM Leaders’ Summit organised by the National University of Singapore. (Photo: Melissa Goh)

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Mr Shanmugam added that “none of this is to say we cannot discuss race … It can and it should take place in a variety of settings among people”.

“The only thing that is being objected to is the tone,” he said.

The Nair siblings were given conditional warnings for the video, which the police said was in clear contravention of the Penal Code.

Mr Shanmugam emphasised that the law must be applied equally.

“If I don’t apply Section 298 of the Penal Code, and say you cannot do this, then I must equally allow the Chinese to do the same,” he said.

“In any society, 95 per cent of the people would not do these things and attack other races. But if you allow the 5 per cent to do it, over time it would become 10 per cent to 15 per cent.

“Once it becomes normalised, it’s perfectly normal to talk about each other along these lines.”

He added: “To what extent, do you think we would have the kind of interactions we have today? Where, by and large, the races co-exist and conduct relationships on a certain basis of respect and trust?”

READ: Videos that ‘attack another race’ cross the line, says Shanmugam on rap video by Preetipls

READ:’Two wrongs don’t make a right’: Ministers, religious leaders on rap video and ‘brownface’ ad

SITUATION IN OTHER COUNTRIES

The minister also spoke about other countries that have allowed offensive speech to become mainstream.

In Germany, he said, that in the name of free speech, hate speech was brought in along racial lines.

“People say it is in the fringe, and will always be in the fringe. Let them say it,” he said.

Their reasoning was that “by allowing them to express these things, you actually defang them”.

However, Mr Shanmugam cautioned that “in the guise of discussion, it gives (some people) the licence to propagate these ideas and values … and be strident about it”.

“Such discussion is today mainstream in Germany. You have verbal attacks, you have extremist violence that has increased by 25 per cent,” he said.

“The free speech, which insofar includes hate speech and offensive speech, because it has no boundaries, has led to this situation even in Germany, let alone France, UK and the US.

“Who thinks that it will be different in Singapore?”

In the dialogue that lasted more than two hours, he cited results from a poll by government feedback portal REACH that said many Singaporeans were aware of the controversy but only one in 10 people had watched the video.

The majority, or 76 per cent of the 1,155 respondents, supported the Government’s move to remove such videos online.